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Friday, November 6, 2015

Finally All Fingers Point To A Foreign Hand

FOR seven rambling years, the Jain Commission of Inquiry—set up to unravel the larger conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi's May 21, 1991, assassination—has stumbled from one controversy to another. The Commission's interim report, tabled in Parliament last year, led to the fall of the United Front government—it had pointed fingers at its coalition partner, the DMK, for harbouring the LTTE, thus creating conditions which facilitated the assassination. 

"The possibility of a foreign hand behind the LTTE in the Rajiv assasination is trengthened." 

It had also come down heavily on the V.P. Singh government for ignoring the security threat to Rajiv.

The final report charts a markedly different course. Volume II, covering chapters I to VI, widens the ambit beyond the immediate circumstances to emphasise a larger, international plot. Foreign intelligence agencies like the CIA and Mossad, and leaders of some Sikh extremist organisations step in as the new dramatis personae. The report says they actively collaborated with the LTTE and key Indian individuals in the period immediately preceding the assassination. The eight-volume set, 14 chapters in all—accessed by Outlook—was submitted to the home ministry on March 7 this year.

Curiously, even as he lambasts the work of the CBI's Special Investigation Team—devoting an entire volume to its investigational lapses—Jain appears to have considerably toned down his earlier stand on the complicity of the DMK and has instead concentrated on the 'foreign' angle. But there are specific recommendations for the prosecution of certain members of the DMK, PMK, and DK, who were earlier chargesheeted in the assassination of EPRLF chief K. Padmanabha in Chennai in 1990.

The report is not without its Indian angle. Startling depositions and intelligence intercepts included in the report indicate that Dr Subramanian Swamy and former prime minister Chandra Shekhar, in different ways, may have had prior knowledge of a threat to Rajiv but did not react in a "timely manner".

"CIA seems to have a track record of destabilising governments while indulging in assassination plots." 

At the same time, Jain appears to have pulled his punches in recommending any further probe into the charges against these two politicians.

What emerges finally is a picture of a well-networked international plot and certain key Indians, cast in varying degrees of complicity, who had 'knowledge' of the plan. Whether Home Ministry officials, who are studying the report, will be able to take any action on these findings for presenting the Action Taken Report in Parliament during this session remains in the realm of speculation. For now, the report, with its explosive annexures and wild-card theories, has the potential of stirring up yet another political maelstrom.

THE FOREIGN HAND: What is the foreign hand referred to in the final report? The depositions and intelligence inputs from RAW and IB have led Justice Jain to infer that the Tamil Tigers couldn't have operated in isolation. In fact, he barely stops short of concluding that it was just the hired executor—a point Jain had touched upon in his interim report. Notes Jain: "The LTTE may be having its own financial resources but to acquire such high-tech weaponry, financial help and help in the form of shipment of arms, which are referred to in IB reports, cannot be ruled out. The possibility of a foreign hand behind the LTTE in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi can't be ruled out, rather it is strengthened." The wireless intercepts (see box) clinches the fact that LTTE operatives like K.

"...there were moves to remove Rajiv and the hand of Chandraswami has been established." 

Padmanabha had links with the CIA and that the US intelligence agency assisted the Tigers in arms procurement and other operations. The LTTE was networked with international agencies and these could have helped them in the plot to kill Rajiv.

To establish the foreign link, the report quotes telegram No. 24 (CCB)/20537 of September 11, 1991—sent to the Ministry of External Affairs by the Indian Ambassador in Tunis, containing a key tipoff he got from PLO president Yasser Arafat. It was conveyed that "Yasser Arafat had information that Rajiv's enemies would use the election period to get rid of him. He got this information from inside Israel and his European sources. These sources mentioned that the LTTE and Sikh extremists would try to harm Rajiv Gandhi. Besides the above three, hostile forces from outside India may also make an attempt."

A recorded note on the talk between the then foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey and the Palestinian ambassador in India, dated June 6, 1991, included in the final report reads: "The Palestinian ambassador told me that they had seen the movement of Mos-sad agents in India, including towards Madras. He said that if one was looking for a link, it was the CIA/Mossad/LTTE link. He further stated that the culprit could have been one of the women related or associated with the five LTTE leaders who had killed themselves after taking cyanide soon after the commencement of the IPKF operation."

Justice Jain gives considerable import to the Arafat input.

"Swamy spoke of the possibility of Prabhakaran having been financed for the job..." 

"I find the information furnished by Yasser Arafat genuine and there is no reason to disbelieve it.... From the note of Shri Muchkund Dubey and the CCB telegram, it is amply borne out that there was an international plot to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi and that it was a Mossad/LTTE/CIA link."

Statements from Dubey's successor J.N. Dixit, Sonia Gandhi as well as details gleaned from RAW and IB have been woven into the report to shore up the information the PLO chief had passed on to Indian authorities. Dixit's deposition finds prominence in the report: "Arafat is right in stating that he had sources within Israel and well-established sources in Europe. This information conveyed in the telegram must have been cross-checked by the field units of RAW under directives of their headquarters."

"There must have been operatives of the CIA and Mossad in India during 1990-91.... The likelihood of Rajiv coming back to power might have been viewed with some reservations, not so much by the US government itself but by segments of the US defence and Intelligence establishment in the context of Rajiv Gandhi's opposition regarding refuelling facilities provided by India for US Air Force planes during the Gulf War," adds the ex-foreign secretary.

Similarly, in her statement to the Commission, Sonia Gandhi confirms that "it is a fact that Arafat sent my husband messages through the Palestinian mission in India saying that they had learnt of the threats to his life. This was reconfirmed to me and my children personally by Arafat when he met us soon after my husband's funeral. There were several other occasions when he received similar information."

RAW too provided the Commission with inputs, which it had shared with IB, on the activities of Mossad and CIA in India in the year immediately preceding the assassination. The final report mentions Amos Radia and Giorce Betchar as agents operating for the Israelis in India. As regards CIA activities in India, RAW had informed the IB that two suspected US intelligence officers were in India in the months preceding the killing.

A study of the post-Gulf war scenario in West Asia conducted by RAW, which was communicated to the PMO, then cabinet secretary Naresh Chandra, then foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey, IB, the Naval Headquarters and then Air Force chief S.K. Mehra, clearly stated: "International terrorism will get a fillip and we can expect terrorist strikes against soft targets in India. Considerable vigil will have to be exercised."

While Jain has gone to great lengths to establish the foreign hand, he has also indicted intelligence agencies like RAW for not taking a serious view of information that came its way. The report says: "RAW's conclusion on Arafat's information requires deeper examination. Nothing has been said about the possible involvement of the CIA which may operate through Mossad in the light of Rajiv Gandhi's utterances during the Gulf War opposing refuelling facilities to the US."

Further, Jain writes, "the CIA seems to have a track-record of covert operations for desta-bilising governments while indulging in assassination plots or otherwise as reported in the print media.... It is in this background of the CIA's alleged track-record that Arafat's utterances have to be evaluated."

THE report notes that, "Kumaran Padmanabha's (KP) account in BCCI, Bombay branch, prima facie establishes links of the LTTE with the bank. Unless material from the Senate subcommittee is gathered, it will not be proper to conclude that the BCCI funds were not made available in connection with the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.... The material which has come before the Commission raises a very strong possibility of such help from some individuals and agencies since it is well established that KP was the LTTE's international arms procurer."

Despite all the information pieced together, the report is short on specifics and does little to flesh out the precise manner in which the foreign hand purportedly worked. The veil of mystery that shrouds the Rajiv killing remains. Jain indicates how the LTTE conspired with foreign agents/agencies to carry out the assassination, but provides only a vague delineation of possible motives. As things stand, it is doubtful whether the MEA (which has been given charge of investigating the international link) will be able to come up with anything.

THE INDIAN CONNECTION: Justice Jain has devoted separate chapters to three key Indian players who are suspected, one way or the other, to have had prior knowledge of the assassination. Nothing definitive or conclusive here, but Jain has woven in intriguing loops of circumstantial evidence—quoted and contained in the annexures—around godman Chandraswami, Janata Party leader Dr Subramanian Swamy and former PM Chandra Shekhar. The three are bracketed, prima facie, as either having a link with those who allegedly conspired with the assassins or at least having been privy to the fact of a plot.

The link between Chandra Shekhar and Subramanian Swamy has been taken seriously by Jain in the light of Chandra-swami's deposition: "I know Chandra Shekhar and Subramanian Swamy have been very thick for the last 7-8 years. Dr Swamy told me that I (Chandraswami) may persuade Rajiv Gandhi to make Chandra Shekhar the PM." Working within this framework, the Commission has read much into the independent testimonies of a host of witnesses—wherever they overlap—and arrived at certain conclusions.

For instance, Justice Jain concludes that Akali leader Mahant Sewa Dass's deposition stands corroborated by evidence provided by RAW. Dass was sent as Chandra Shekhar's emissary to meet Khalistan proponent Dr Jagjit Singh Chohan in London. He had deposed that at the meeting a plot to eliminate Rajiv was being hatched jointly by Babbar Khalsa militants and a representative of the LTTE (R.M. Pradi)—and that the project was to be financed by Chandraswami. Jain says: "It is fully established that Mahant Sewa Dass went to London, met Dr Chohan in the presence of some persons, conveyed the message of Chandra Shekhar and brought back a letter from Dr Chohan addressed to Shri Chandra Shekhar."

The letter also finds a place in government records and reads:

"Dear Mr Chandra Shekharji,
Mahantji discussed quite a few but very important things with me. I very much appreciate your initiative in Punjab. I am sure it will help to pacify the violence in Punjab. Mahantji will give you the details of our discussion on various aspects. Talks are the only way to resolve the problems. 
More on hearing from you. Yours sincerely, Dr Jagjit Singh Chohan" 
According to the report, "RAW confirms the meeting and that almost all the active pro-Khalistan groups were represented in the meeting. It also says that the main purpose of Mahant Sewa Dass's sojourn was to find out the pro-Khalistani elements on a possible peace package acceptable to them which could then be projected as an achievement of the Government of India as a successful attempt to bring back the Sikhs abroad into the national mainstream.... However, a contemporary inquiry should have been made and the report should have been sent to the PM."

The Commission also has on record a communication UO.No 3/5/88-VS, dated July 21, 1988, in which RAW mentioned reports indicating that Dr Chohan was trying to establish contact with the LTTE in the UK. Also, "government records show that Mahant Sewa Dass was sent by the government as an emissary of Chandra Shekhar to meet Dr Chohan. His arrangements for travel were made by the government."

According to Jain, "From the perusal of various statements, it is evident that the relations of Chandraswami did exist, not only with Rao but also with Chandra Shekhar, Subrama-nian Swamy and O.P. Chautala. However, no inference of complicity can be drawn, although the surveillance at 10, Janpath and the statement of Saifullah may give rise to some doubts."

As for Chandraswami, the circle of suspicion is wider. His links with the LTTE as well as international arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi (see box) have been established. Notes Jain: "The evidence and material does point an accusing finger at Chandraswami and circumstances which have come before the Commission raise a doubt regarding his involvement in the assassination. Taking the entire evidence, material and circumstantial, brought on record, a serious doubt arises regarding Chandraswami's complicity and involvement. So the matter requires a further probe.... There is a plethora of evidence on record in the form of testimony of Buta Singh, S.S. Mahapatra, B.G. Deshmukh and others which proves that there were moves to remove Rajiv Gandhi and the hand of Chandraswami in these moves has been clearly established."

Many witnesses have attested to the godman's dubious links with international agencies. Ramesh Dalal, BJP activist, deposed that he knew "Shri Chandraswami has relations with the CIA, Mossad and the LTTE. He took the help of these agencies in assassinating Rajiv Gandhi.... In the core group of Chandraswami, Rajendra Jain, Babloo Srivastava, K.N. Aggarwal, Subramanian Swamy, Chandra Shekhar, O.P. Chautala and Pinaki Misra were there. The people of this core group used to meet Chandraswami in his bedroom. Chandraswami told me he had been financing the LTTE..."

The report says: "It is noteworthy that when he (Ramesh Dalal) had expressed his doubts regarding the involvement of Chandraswami as early as August 1991, investigations should have been conducted. Outrightly rejecting his testimony would not be a proper course and a thorough investigation is required to be made about the truth or otherwise of his testimony. Some support is available...from the deposition of Mahant Sewa Dass Singh."

As for Swamy, the Commission interweaves various independent depositions and pieces of evidence to flesh out his links with the god-man and international agencies as well as his role as an intermediary. The report notes that Swamy had made a trip to London in 1995 with Chandraswami—they both stayed at Halkin Hotel and the bill was picked up by the godman.

Going back to the period before the killing, Jain cites the then cabinet secretary Zafar Saifullah's statement that "there were some intercepts emanating from Israel for information to Chandraswami and Swamy for Jaffna. These intercepts have not come before the Commission. If Saifullah's statement is correct, then the intercepts would have thrown much more light on the question of complicity."

THE report adds: "A serious doubt has also been cast by E. Velusami who has filed an affidavit before the Commission..." Velusami, then general secretary of the Janata Party in Tamil Nadu, had deposed that his party president had arrived "in the morning at Madras airport by a flight from Delhi on Sunday, May 19, 1991." Elections in the state were set for May 26. "Swamy's whereabouts became unknown on May 21 morning. He subsequently learnt he had spent May 21 morning in a hotel called Trident near the airport and that he had met some persons there....

It is not clear why he made this secret stay in Madras on May 21, 1991, that too, after suddenly cancelling his pre-settled programme of going to Delhi from Madras and without any information to his colleagues..." Swamy's itinerary was confirmed by the personal secretary to the ex-minister, writes Jain. He gives credence to the testimony of Aziz Haniffa, Washington bureau chief of India Abroad, in which he states that "during an interview with Swamy, the latter claimed it was he who was instrumental in introducing the LTTE to the Israelis, which led to their training by Mossad."

Similarly, former Rajya Sabha MP Rajani Ranjan Sahu deposed that in 1994 Dr Swamy told him and two others at the Tamil Nadu governor's house that the LTTE was hired for the job. He claimed Prabhakaran ordered the assassination after entering into a Rs 100-crore deal. He also revealed that "one W. Anderson, first secretary in the American Embassy, was anti-Rajiv" and that intelligence officials had got wind of the plot. Jain, at the same time, seems to suspend judgement on the episode: "From the statements of Sahu, Jitendra Prasada and Rajiv Shukla, it is borne out that they happened to meet Dr Swamy in the drawing room of the Governor's house and that... Dr Swamy spoke of the possibility of V. Prabhakaran having been financed for the job which might have motivated him for the assassination. ... If that's what transpired on May 29, 1994, and if it has any bearing while taking conspectus of the view in relation to any conspiracy, this event can be taken into account but if examined independently, nothing would turn on it."

However, Jain reserves some sharp comments for the Janata Party chief. "Dr Swamy cannot be believed when he changes his versions and when he is indefinite and when he does not support his version by any corroboratory evidence. The divergence in the statements of Chandraswami and Dr Swamy on the purpose of their joint visit to London in 1995 does raise suspicions."

On the explanation of D.R. Karthikeyan, special director, CBI, regarding the international ramifications, Jain writes that it "does not completely rule out the possibility of involvement beyond the LTTE. If the SIT had investigated Chandraswami, Mahant Sewa Dass and interrogated Chandra Shekhar, Swamy, T.N. Seshan and Narasimha Rao, it would have helped the Commission...."

In the final analysis, Jain has shifted the focus from Indian players. But it remains a fuzzy piece of detective work. His conclusions are tentative, provisional—the report does not contain the last word on the killing, nor any actionable leads for investigating agencies to pick up. What impact will it have, beyond being a source of embarrassment for some individuals? That, like the core question—who ordered the Rajiv killing?—the final report leaves exactly where the interim report left off: an open-ended question.

(This article is issued in public interest.)


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